California governor intervened in Activision Blizzard lawsuit, state attorney says

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An attorney for the California Civil Rights Agency has resigned over what she said were improper attempts by Governor Gavin Newsom and his office to interfere in a state lawsuit against the video game giant Activision Blizzard.

Bloomberg reported that Melanie Proctor, deputy chief attorney for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, told staff in an email Tuesday that she was resigning to protest the firing of Janette Wipper, the attorney in head of the department that worked on the Activision lawsuit. Proctor also said Newsom’s office requested “notice” of the items in dispute.

“As we continued to win in state court, this interference grew, mimicking the interests of Activision’s attorney,” reads the email, a copy of which was shown to Bloomberg.

Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon said the allegations of interference from the governor’s office “are categorically false.”

No further details of Newsom’s alleged interference have been made public. Activision spokesman Rich George did not immediately respond to an email Thursday.

Activision is a Santa Monica-based company that makes popular games like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft.

The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company in July, alleging a “frat boy” culture that had become “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” The state alleged that the company also failed to pay women fairly and promoted them at slower rates than men. Black women and other women of color have been “especially affected” by the company’s discriminatory practices, the State Department said in a press release at the time.

The case is pending in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Newsom, a Democrat, faces re-election in November. He faces no major opponents after easily defeating a recall attempt against him last fall. Activision board member Casey Wasserman donated $100,000 to Newsom’s anti-recall campaign, according to state campaign fundraising records. Wasserman could not immediately be reached for comment.

In January, Xbox maker Microsoft announced a nearly $69 billion cash deal to buy the company. If approved by U.S. and foreign regulators, it could be one of the biggest tech acquisitions in history. Announcing the deal, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted the Activision allegations and said it would be “essential” for the company to advance longtime CEO Bobby Kotick’s commitments to improve its corporate culture.

Wipper and Proctor, the former state employees, retained Alexis Ronickher, a Washington, DC-based attorney who represents whistleblowers. Ronickher said Wipper was “in the middle of her success” pursuing the Activision case when she was first contacted by Newsom’s office on March 29.

The statement does not detail the reasons given for his dismissal. Newsom spokeswoman Mellon said the office could not comment on personnel matters.

Wipper is “evaluating all legal remedies, including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act,” the statement said.

Wipper and Proctor urged “appropriate oversight authorities” to investigate their allegations.

“For there to be justice, those with political influence must be held to the same set of laws and rules,” Ronickher said in the statement.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing did not immediately provide The Associated Press with a copy of Proctor’s email, saying it should be treated as a public records request, a process that can take weeks. . Ronickher said the AP overseer would not provide a copy of “any resignation letter she may have sent.”

Activision has been criticized by the government and even some shareholders for allegations that management ignored sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.

A lawsuit filed by a shareholder last year alleges the company’s negligent response caused the shares to decline in value.

The company also agreed last year to pay $18 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After a nearly three-year investigation, the agency concluded that Activision failed to take effective action after employees complained of sexual harassment, discrimination against pregnant employees and retaliating against female employees. who expressed themselves, in particular by dismissing them.

A federal judge approved the settlement on March 29, the same day Wipper was notified of her dismissal. The judge denied a request from Wipper’s agency to delay the settlement while she pursued her own case.

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